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Tampa Bay Lightning can begin buying Sunday as NHL free agency opens

Defenseman Ryan Suter is the prize of free agency but unlikely to come to Tampa.

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Defenseman Ryan Suter is the prize of free agency but unlikely to come to Tampa.

It has been a strange run-up to free agency for the Lightning.

It has about $19 million in salary cap space but is not expected to chase the highest-priced players. It has a left wing, Ben Pouliot, whom it acquired last week but can go on the open market.

There is speculation (though it is a stretch) Tampa Bay might be a landing place for future Hall of Fame goaltender Marty Brodeur.

But as the Lightning prepares for bidding to begin at noon today, one thing has been constant.

"Our focus," general manager Steve Yzerman said, "is on defense."

The biggest prize is Ryan Suter, and Yzerman will inquire. But it sounds as if Suter wants to play in the Midwest.

More in the ballpark are players such as Jason Garrison, Matt Carle, Carlo Colaiacovo, Michal Rozsival and Bryan Allen.

They won't be cheap. The talent pool is shallow, and the Flames set a high bar, signing Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.25 million deal ($5.25 million cap hit).

"On July 1, you're paying a premium for a guy," Yzerman said. "We're prepared to do that for the right player. One, potentially two, we could do that."

Even so, Yzerman added, "You'd better really love a guy if you're going to lock him in for a long time and for a lot of money, so we're going to be cautious. We're not going to sign guys just for the sake of signing them."

Big picture, the Lightning this summer probably wants to add two defensemen and two or three forwards.

Free agency is not the only option. Trades always are possible, and if the Blackhawks are serious about moving defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, Yzerman would be interested. There also are options at AHL Syracuse with defensemen Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas and forwards Cory Conacher and Alex Killorn.

"As a fallback, if we have to rely on some of our young guys, that might not be such a bad thing," Yzerman said.

Also not so bad: that Pouliot at noon can become unrestricted and free to sign with any team. But Yzerman has said, as has Pouliot's agent, the left wing will be with the Lightning.

More interesting is talk Brodeur might be a fit. The Lightning acquired Anders Lindback from the Predators to solve its long-term net issues.

Even so, former Flames general manager Craig Button, an NHL Network analyst, said Brodeur to Tampa Bay is a "plausible discussion" because Brodeur "has competed against Steve Yzerman, played with him on the Olympic team in '02. The respect both ways is tremendously high, and that has to be a factor as much as anything."

But former NHL player Nick Kypreos, an analyst for Canada's Sportsnet, said, "They went out of their way to handpick Lindback. I don't see what giving 55 games to Marty does for Lindback in the long run."

And the long run is what must be evaluated when looking at free agents.

Sure, Tampa Bay would love to have Zach Parise or P.A. Parenteau. It even has mild interest in bringing back Dominic Moore, a huge factor in the team's 2011 playoff run.

"But to be honest, I think it's going to be very difficult through free agency to find what you want," Yzerman said. "There are 30 teams and not many players. We may have to do it through trade or we do nothing (today) and see what's there (Monday)."

A strange run-up to free agency, indeed.

Aulie SIGNS: Defenseman Keith Aulie signed a one-year, two-way deal that will pay $577,500 if he's in the league. Aulie, 23, had a goal and two points and was minus-5 in 19 games after he was acquired in February from Toronto for center Carter Ashton.

Around the league: Oilers get coveted collegian

Edmonton signed defenseman Justin Schultz, a two-time Hobey Baker finalist as college's top player, to a two-year entry-level deal worth $1.95 million (with potential bonuses of up to $2.85 million). Canada's TSN reported that 26 teams talked to Schultz, who turns 22 Friday and is expected to be in the NHL this season. But only seven, including the Lightning, were allowed to make presentations.

Anaheim drafted him in the second round in 2008. But he elected to go to Wisconsin (for whom he had 16 goals and 28 assists in 37 games last season). But it failed to sign him within three years, making him a free agent.

Leafs: Wing Colby Armstrong will be bought out. Signed to a $9 million, three-year deal in 2010, he missed more games (85) than he played (79) and had just nine goals and 17 assists.

Penguins: Defenseman Matt Niskanen agreed to re-sign for two years and $4.3 million. In 75 games last season, he had four goals and 17 assists.

Predators: Center Paul Gaustad re-signed for four years and $13 million. He had seven goals, 14 assists and 76 penalty minutes last season.

Rangers: Backup goalie Martin Biron re-signed for two years and $2.6 million.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Who might the Lightning look at in free agency?

Defense

PLAYERAGETEAMGAPTS+/-
Ryan Suter27Predators7394615
Jason Garrison27Panthers1617336
Matt Carle27Flyers434384
Carlo Colaiacovo29Blues217197
Michal Rozsival33Coyotes112138
Bryan Allen31Hurricanes11314-1

Center

PLAYERAGETEAMGAPTS+/-
Dominic Moore31Sharks42125-18

Wing

PLAYERAGETEAMGAPTS+/-
Zach Parise27Devils313869-5
P.A. Parenteau29Islanders184967-8
Jiri Hudler28Red Wings25255010

Tampa Bay Lightning can begin buying Sunday as NHL free agency opens 06/30/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 11:57pm]

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